Building blocks of designAfter having been in the creative business for some time now I’ve noticed specific patterns among the processes involved in developing designs for clients that might warrant further discussion. Let’s focus on the “management” aspect of design in order to identify potential problems that could arise between designers and their clients.

Clients come to us to help them put together designs for a wealth of projects from new brand identities to PowerPoint presentations. I have my share of the last minute calls from clients asking us to put together designs in haste, whether due to time constraints, last-minute ideas or procrastination. This is often the nature of such design needs. Clients are often asked last-minute to run a promotion, present to colleagues, or submit a project that they themselves were not given much time to plan or execute.

So, as we “creatives” know, these are often funneled our way much to our chagrin. We are driven by innovation, translating creativity, quality in creation, and a design process that ultimately helps us render a refined product to our clients. The catch here is when we are given either rushed content or timelines from our clients. Poor content and limited timelines inevitably render equally unimpressive designs. Having that “eye” for design, that innate ability to construct aesthetics in a pleasing yet functional manner is not something that tends to mesh well with a rushed timeline or underdeveloped content.

With this said, here are a few key elements to consider when seeking out the services of a graphic designer or team.

Forecasting-
If the project affords you some time to prepare, make solid use of that time. If you have a design team in mind, let them know the project is coming and share any insight as this will help the designer(s) prepare and begin conceptualizing ideas.

Content Development-
A beautifully designed project from a designer can be rendered inept if the copy/content isn’t fully structured, well edited, and finely tuned. Ever been at a sporting event such as a bike race or neighborhood ball game and seen that guy with the ridiculously expensive equipment and immediately feel a little intimidated when you look at yours in comparison? Then, when it’s his/her turn to perform, the skill level doesn’t quite match up to his equipment. The same conflict can arise on a project if both the design and content aren’t fully developed.

Participation-
In the past, I have experienced a few clients that only provide a rough idea of what they are looking to have designed. Novice designers get excited about this. What they don’t realize is that without clear specifics as to desired elements, forms, colors, placement and imagery the design will undoubtedly run into issues with respect to taste, style or layout differences between the designer and the client. So frank discussions and frequent communications are key here.

Design Time-
Plan ahead and allow for adequate development and editing time for both content and design. Remember, the less time allotted here for conceptualization and implementation, the more likely the design will lack the desired refinement.

Review-
Once the content and design have been combined into a proof, ample time should also be planned in to allow for editing the proof. Regardless of how much effort was put into either the design or the content, when merged together there will inevitably be aspects and elements needing editing or adjustments to placement. Designers build this stage into their design cost specifically due to the fact that a simple merge does not make a final product. There will always be further fine-tuning needed. Plan for it!

Review footnote – Please understand that in the editing process, a slight shift here or a new image there (depending on the platform one is working on) can be easily construed as a simple fix by a client. The designer knows otherwise. Some adjustments can be very labor intensive or time consuming regardless if they are visually minor or not. It is the designer’s responsibility to communicate inherent difficulties in the design process. Communicating these issues up front will allow for a better work-flow and better mutual understanding on both ends of the process.

Steve Muth
scm designs

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Logo design is a uniquely finicky business, considering the entire process is based on the ever-present, double-edged sword of subjectivity. The common denominator for so many designers is the bridging of design principles to a clients needs without breaking down the trust. I have read blog after blog on this, ranging from utter frustration to sheer elations of the rare finding of an “ideal client.”  In most scenarios, there is often a gap (large or small) between the creative and the client in terms of direction and construction of a design.

So what’s the source of the problem and how do we as designers find the happy middle ground? How do we knock our clients socks off while still giving them something that reflects their initial ideas in a fresh, creative way?

Well, there’s no elusive or self-evident answer here. Many factors come into play right off the proverbial bat that begin to emerge from the first client consultation.

First, in todays “The World is Flat” age of technology that knows no boundaries, creatives often result to email, facebook, twitter and sometimes phone or Skype – even texting to communicate ideas and thoughts with their clients – and visa versa. The inherent problem with this as a sole approach to contact is that it does not allow for the designer to truly get a sense of the personality and identity of their client.  Without building a strong client profile, the design process will most likely discover significant gaps between the designer’s renderings and the client’s desired look.  As we all have witnessed, many of us take on a distinctly different personality (good or bad) in our email voices compared to our true personalities.  So, ultimately, nothing replaces quality face-to-face time with a client when possible.

Second, we need to look into whether the phrase the customer is always right is truly applicable to your business or not. Frankly, it’s a meaningless rule on its own.  If a client was always right, then they simply wouldn’t seek out your services now, would they?!  Many designers hop on the ego train and can’t adjust their vision to better suite their client’s desires.   Others will simply render anything the client throws at them.  Either way – you’re doomed to fail in your client’s eyes!  Ultimately, the best recipe for success is to listen to, and utilize the input from your client while providing creative insight and adjustments to eventually present your client with a design that wows.

Finally, the most common error in the design process is not taking the time to explain the mechanics behind designing logos, brochures or whatever it is your putting together for them.  The more time a designer invests in describing their process, their tools and their normal steps of operation, the better off all will be.  Designer’s should avoid getting caught up in becoming a “yes” man/woman and focus on how to cooperatively coach a client through ideas that allow for a reasonable work flow and well-constructed design in the end.

The more either side understands each other’s intentions and undertakings the stronger the outcome will be.  Mutual understanding are often significantly under-appreciated.

SCM Designs

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processing design

02/01/2010

Designers across different creative fields truly only have one thing in common – creativity.  Funky graphic artists to chique apparel designers, to web gurus all create with a personal process of getting from concept to reality.  Some begin with a sketch, others take a walk in hopes of striking sudden inspiration from their immediate environment – or maybe a good thump to the head to rattle something loose inside.

Where do you find curious sources of inspiration?  Do you strike creative gold when walking through the local art museum, or from that tattooed mongrel you tried to not make eye contact with in the metro?  Do you seek out novel ideas through others work, or do you purposely steer away from them to maintain your clear sense of self-identity in your ideas?  What’s the strangest thing you’ve drawn new ideas from?

Next comes the process of taking your idea and turning it into reality.  How do you do it? Do you jump right into CS, or do you start by sketching, stretching or building?  Let’s find out who has the most unique process of turning thought to final product.  Tell us anonymously, or proudly proclaim you curious process.  Either way, this could be a fun exercise in discovery.

Steve Muth
SCM Designs

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How do we judge or interpret a good design?

We’re all surrounded on a daily basis by visual representations that we interpret in many different ways. Some we walk by without any needed effort to understanding their meaning, while others seek to invoke an emotional response in the brief seconds we afford them.

Over time, certain design principles have bounced back and forth from the forefront to the background as stylistic transformations have occurred within each generational movement.  Take the classic “form follows function” as an example.  This has been a design foundation to many designers over the years, but does it always hold true?  Could we say that the form of an iPhone follows its function?  Not so much. Does a digital camera form follow it’s function?  They’re still shaped based on a design that accommodated film rolls within.  Digital camera no longer require such a shape.  But yet its functionality is as loud as its form. When is it appropriate to follow certain rules and when does a design need to deviate from these hardened guidelines to better suite the needs of its intentions? Should a design be minimalist or complex in its presentation to its viewer?  Should designers focus on a functionalist approach or is there more to it than that?   What role does symbolism or iconography play in the design of a logo or other piece and should archetypes be so often revisited or should we seek new, innovative ideas?  So, what ultimately determines whether a design concept is successful or not?

Unfortunately there is no one simplistic answer to solve these creative dilemmas designers face every day.  Ask any designer and they’ll tell about the struggles they’ve encountered while working on a project with a client and how they found difficulty in seeing eye-to-eye when it came down to final artwork.  But ultimately, design is a cooperative effort of listening to ideas both from their point of initiation and throughout the design stages.  A good idea can mature into a great one as it moves through constructive critique.  The difficult part is recognizing this and acting on it.

Ultimately, a design should generate a desire, an emotional energy, a clear understanding and association to something – whether subtle or not.  Colors, shapes and how these elements interact will determine the success of a piece, but not due to their sheer presence, but how they are cooperatively intertwine to invoke a response.

A great design is not one that solves everything at once, but one that inherently solves the challenges of its intended audience as it and they mature over time.  Unintended audiences may not see it as successful, but the design itself should predict this. Individuality is often an underlying factor in how a design is created, whether corporate or private, and should be embraced as part of the process.

In the end, a design will serve to support an idea, a business strategy, an identity, a visual representation of a tightly wrapped emotional package that with the right trigger, would openly identify with something so simple as a visual aesthetic – a creative identity with a distinct purpose.  A narrative.  A story.

No, design is not simply the construction of shapes, lines and text, but how these elements are constructed to interact with their viewers.

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”- Henry Ford

Steve Muth
SCM Designs

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